There’s no gray area when it comes to Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series. Time after time, Greaney delivers an action-packed, emotionally charged tome to satisfy the most demanding fans.
Burner, the 12fth volume in his popular series, is another high-octane dose of excitement and thrills to rival the best James Bond or Jack Reacher yarns. From blazing gunfights to high-speed car chases to a suspense-filled, extended train sequence, the novel rarely lets up in its intensity and drama.
When we join him this time around, Court Gentry — better known under the codename of The Gray Man — has gone off the grid, “hoping for some action that would leave him feeling like he’d made a difference in this increasingly cold, black world.” In this case, it’s sabotaging Russian oligarchs’ yachts in the Caribbean on behalf of a Ukrainian client whose country, as in real life, is embroiled in a brutal war with Putin’s regime.
Court “suffered no illusions that he was changing the world with any of this,” Greaney writes. “This was simply inconveniencing and pissing off some very bad people who had been party to unspeakable crimes against humanity.”
Despite his best efforts to remain hidden, it’s not long before the CIA — which wants him dead for his previous rogue actions — discovers Court’s whereabouts. He’s even more surprised that the CIA is willing to let bygones be bygones if he does another job for them: find a Swiss banker, Alex Velesky, who has pilfered a laundry list of data on a thumb drive that could expose a vast Russian money laundering scheme.
Naturally, Court’s a bit suspicious, causing his CIA associate Angela Lacy to remark: “You’re really paranoid, aren’t you?”
“That’s what all the people trying to kill me keep saying,” Court admits, later explaining that he operates “under a preternatural desire for survival.”
While the action keeps readers glued to the page, Greaney’s ability to exploit his characters’ emotions gives the novel a deeper edge. Court’s on-again, off-again relationship with former lover Zoya Zakharova, who is also after the thumb drive on behalf of her own employers, creates a thrilling tension throughout as their paths are inevitably destined to cross once again.
“He’d been sleeping, and he’d dreamed about her, and when he woke up, the dream seemed to continue in his semiconscious state,” Greaney writes.
For Zoya’s part, she’s fallen into despair and drugs, hoping her mission will give her a new sense of purpose. “I used to worry I wouldn’t live to see tomorrow’s sunrise,” she tells Velesky at one point. “Then I started not to worry as much. Now … now it’s getting to where I don’t care one way or the other.”
Though the plot may be a bit clichéd — everyone’s after the so-called MacGuffin — Greaney knows how to keep the action ramped up nonstop. And thanks to Russia’s real-life war with Ukraine, it’s easy for Greaney to make readers see them as villains again, as it was during the Cold War and the best of the Bond adventures.
“This was a race against time,” Greaney writes. “For Velesky, for the lone asset with him, for Court and Angela, for the CIA.”
As usual, Greaney peppers the narrative with his expertise about weapons — most of which he’s shot himself on the range — and detailed, globe-hopping locales, creating a solid, authentic experience for readers. It doesn’t hurt that the character of Court Gentry is seeing a boom in popularity with a successful adaptation on Netflix and two new movies starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans on the way.
We can’t seem to get enough of Greaney’s Gray Man, whose psyche Lacy nails here in a single sentence: “You’re some disaffected, burned-out, jaded, hard-edged asset who doesn’t believe in the mission any longer but keeps doing what he’s doing because he doesn’t know what the hell else to do.”
G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.